Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Review of the 2009 F1 Season - Thrills and Spills!!!

In this edition we look back at the thrills and spills of the last year's Formula One.
  • Jenson and Ross's highs
  • Flav, Pat and Nelson's lows
  • Max's goodbyes

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The demise of SAAB?

The team discuss the possible demise of SAAB...:


Thursday, 17 December 2009

2010 F1 Calendar

Next year's F1 dates have been formalised by the FIA... Assuming no last minute changes, they are...:

14/3 Bahrain

28/3 Australia

4/4 Malaysia

18/4 China

9/5 Spain

16/5 Monaco

30/5 Turkey

13/6 Canada

27/6 Europe (Valencia)

11/7 Great Britain

25/7 Germany

1/8 Hungary

29/8 Belgium

12/9 Italy

26/9 Singapore

10/10 Japan

24/10 Korea

7/11 Brazil

14/11 Abu Dhabi

With 19 races, new teams, and new drivers, it's going to be a busy year....!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ice & snow? Mind how you go..

As the first major cold snap of the Winter descends upon us here in the South of England UKMotortalk's Graham Benge gives us all some timely advice on how to make safe progress on icy roads.

The second freezing morning in a row, it's obviously very cold everywhere as not only do I have to scrape my car's windows - it's minus 3 where I live - but also, while doing so, I get yet another radio request to do a piece on driving in bad conditions.

Interesting that my piece over the mobile phone while parked up, was preceded by a man from the county council on the gritting and salting they would be doing, yes they had plenty of everything, including, by the sound of it, complacency.

This wasn't so in February when we had a lot of snow, local authorities are still smarting from the drubbing they took for that error of judgement..

Fact is there has been no gritting yet on any of the roads I travel involving an A and B road transit across 3 counties, so are they holding off until the weather is worse? Didn't do much for the several areas of black ice I encountered this morning, remember the shinier the road the more dangerous it is!

There's plenty more bad weather driving advice on our website -

but the most important things to remember in driving in adverse conditions are:

1:leave earlier,

2:leave enough time that you can go slower than usual, and

3: drive more smoothly than you would normally, most accidents on ice and snow are caused by excessive speed, coarse steering and too agressive braking and accelerating - gently does it!

Graham Benge

Friday, 11 December 2009

Brighter, Better Headlight bulbs...

A few weeks ago, I was driving home from my regular pub quiz night... You can picture it... Wind, rain and dark, country roads.... I thought the road just looked a bit, well, dull!

When I got home, I confirmed that the dipped headlight bulb had blown.... So, the next day, once the rain had stopped, I replaced it with a spare bulb I had bought some time ago for this exact purpose...

Job done, I thought as I switched the lights on and did a full bulb test to make sure all was ok....

And, yes, the job was done... The car was legal again... All lights showing as they should....

But then I drove in the dark again... And I didn't think the road looked any brighter than it did before! So I checked the lights again.... Yes, all working...

It was now I began to wonder if I had got used to all of those bulbs that come with great claims for extra brightness that most of us would find hard to quantify....! 40% extra... 50% extra... And with price tags that are possibly exponentially inflated with the claims!!!

A little internet research, and a few tweets later, I had decided that I wouldn't mess about... Osram Nightbreakers claim an extra 90% at the same 55W.... That'd do me!

But, hang on a minute... The Passat takes 4x H7 bulbs for its dipped and highbeam headlights... This could get expensive! A quick (made all the briefer by the pain in the wallet!) search of the internet suggested more than £30 a pair.... Did I really want to spend £60 just to make the road a little brighter?

One more journey in the dark gave me the answer... YES!

So, I then dared to dive into ebay... and suddenly the prices didn't seem as extreme! In fact, roughly half as extreme!!!

I decided to buy from ebay seller wattbulb07 .... You can't generally argue with a 100% feedback rating...

The next day a package appeared......

So, £35 and a couple of damaged knuckles from the fitting, (that's a different story!), and the road ahead is, once more, a brighter place...

I guess this kind of thing may well sound trivial, certainly not as thrilling as driving the new Bentley or Aston, but in terms of road safety, and saving your eyes whilst driving at night, I find it money very well spent...

Of course, a lot of cars have clever headlight arrangements these days... HID, projector lenses, DLR, LED.... the technology and acronyms are endless... But if you go and put a "dull" bulb behind them, they might as well have candles!

Andrew Denyer

Monday, 7 December 2009

Every Cloud Has A Silver(stone) Lining.

There were those who said back in the Summer of 2008 that Donington's surprise award of the British Grand Prix would never come to pass.

Too ambitious they said, too little time to turn the appealingly quaint circuit next to the East Midlands Airport into a venue fit for the premier tier of four-wheeled motorsport.

Well, as it transpired, they were correct, although the major global recession probably contributed more than anything to the demise of Donington's dream of once more hosting Formula One racing.

Whilst we were sorry to be saying goodbye to Silverstone, F1's traditional permanent home in the UK since 1987, we did want Donington to succeed as they seemed to be putting so much time, effort and funding into a project which they assured us would result in state of the art facilities and an exciting circuit for Bernie's circus to come and play at in the Summer.

Alas, as we all now know, the aforementioned recession did for Donington's plans what it had done for Lehman Brothers, Woolworths and the entire Icelandic banking system and after some to-ing and fro-ing between the British Racing Drivers Club and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Administration it was looking likely that an insurmountable impasse was the end result of the tentative negotiations.

With the two sides entrenched, motor racing fans started to fear the worst as deadlines were mentioned and alternative venues around the world lined up to fill Britain's gap in the F1 calendar. One enterprising 'Tweeter' even went so far as to start a #savethebritishgrandprix 'hashtag' to spread the word of the potential end of Britain's unbroken run of hosting Grands Prix.

Well, today after much muttering and leaked internet rumours on forums, Twitter and various other social networking websites, a delighted UK motorsport community got the news that they so desperately wanted - Silverstone would, after all, be hosting the British Grand Prix in 2010 and for the next 16 years after that.

It seems that after much hard bargaining and promises to comprehensively update the circuit and its facilities, common sense has prevailed and the race is to remain at its spiritual home for the forseeable future.
In awarding a contract for such a relatively long period, Ecclestone has finally given the BRDC the stability it needs to raise the neccessary funds to update and enhance Silverstone - something even the most diehard fan of the Northampton circuit would admit is a well-overdue requirement.

So, with one piece of the jigsaw well and truly in place for next year, we can finally look forward to the mouthwatering prospect of two consecutive Formula One World Champions racing one another in equal machinery at their home circuit - a circuit they both love and enjoy the challenge of and one which has regularly seen history made since its first appearance on the F1 calendar way back in 1948.

And, whilst we spare a thought for those behind the ultimately unsuccessful bid to re-introduce Grand Prix racing to the other Midlands circuit, and in particular Tom Wheatcroft who sadly passed away as Donington's plans were unravelling, we congratulate Damon Hill and the BRDC and look forward to what will undoubtedly be an amazing 2010 and beyond for the British Grand Prix.

David Wakefield

Friday, 4 December 2009

Astra La Vista.

As the fifth iteration of Vauxhall's ubiquitous Astra makes its way off the end of the production line to be replaced by its shiny new progeny, Alex Henry takes a parting look at a car whose replacement may well be the product of fashion rather than neccessity.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Mk5 Astra was launched.

Actually, it wasn’t that long ago – 5 years.

Back in 2004 GM gave us the first Astra that for once someone might actually want to buy, rather than choose off an unimaginative fleet list. Nicely styled inside and out, convincingly well made and with a staggering variety of trim, engine and specification it really made a case for itself.

It was even good to drive.

Fast forward to 2009 and the Mk6 is just about now landing in Vauxhall showrooms. It’s a car that has a lot of weight resting on its shoulders, but fortunately, reviews to date have been very positive. Certainly the larger Insignia model, the Vectra replacement which bears more than a few similarities to the new Astra, has been well received and an undoubted success.

Model cycles these days are really very short and this is made clear on reacquainting myself with the Mk5. This particular car, a 3 door sport hatch, has remained basically unchanged since launch nearly 5 years ago. As nearly always seems to be the case, promises of a more sporty, sexy looking version of the plain old 5 door hatch didn’t quite come to fruition when this body shape was revealed but it would be hard to argue that this car looks staid. Yes, it’s got a bit of a fat arse and is slightly ill proportioned, particularly on the smaller wheels of this SXi version, but the design has stood the test of time.

The same applies to the interior design. The dashboard mouldings, door cards and instrumentation have not overly dated due to their restrained, functional style and decent quality rubberised materials, which are in stark contrast to the nasty, shiny effort of the Mk4. The only thing these two cars have in common is the rather old-hat orange dot matrix display of the radio and trip computer.

During this model’s lifecycle I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of engines, from smaller petrols right up to the 2.0 turbo petrol and full fat 150BHP 1.9 Fiat sourced turbodiesel, and none of them have disappointed. This 1.6 litre petrol probably best illustrates the car in typical trim although it’s interesting to note that naturally aspirated petrol engines will not feature in the Mk6 Astra at launch.

This engine delivers 115BHP smoothly and despite some resonance, enjoys being revved hard. This is a good thing because the only way the car can be coaxed along at a decent pace is to work it hard through the five speed gearbox. This too is nice to use, a light, precise action with a short throw across the gate and a positive feeling clutch. The only real fly in the ointment is the detectable hesitation on the electronic throttle – a delayed response which always seems to catch you out and which makes its presence felt in stop start traffic. It’s easy to make yourself look like an amateur even after familiarisation with it, the car sometimes still jerking along even after convincing you that you had mastered the use of it.

Ride, steering and handling are all good. These days it would be hard to imagine anything else, so high has the standard become on even the cheapest of cars. Even on sports suspension, ride is firm but well damped, steering action is fast and feedback plentiful and large reserves of grip are on offer. As is usual, an emphasis on safe understeer is apparent when really pushing but this is not something most people will even begin to approach. It’s a good drive.

There are some niggles. Some of the interior plastics are poor. The dashboard interfaces are not as simple as their looks would suggest and it’s easy to mistake the stereo volume control for the heater and vice versa. Navigating the stereo and dash menus takes plenty of patience and no reason can be found for some of the buttons being so small. The air conditioning button is a good example, being on the wrong side of the gearlever for right hand drive and really tiny. GM never seem to be able to get these sorts of things right - despite first appearances they always manage to make you feel that the accountants were in control inside rather than the designers. Little things like the cheap feeling mirror control buttons, the semi-flexible front seats and the awful, awful indicator and wiper controls with their electronic cancellation. Much was made of these at launch but they are noticeably AWOL on the new model. They cause misery. The speakers on the stereo are very tinny. Little things like these make a big difference.

What’s most remarkable about this outgoing car is that it doesn’t feel like its time is up. When the Rover 800 was replaced by the 75, it was quite clear that this was long overdue. Likewise the Mk4 Ford Fiesta and so many other tired cars. It’s a bit like when a new version of the iPod comes out less than a year after the previous version. As cars increasingly become part of the throw-away world, earning their owners scrap payments whilst still being serviceable, this sort of thing is inevitable and increasingly common. It hardly seems five minutes ago since the last generation Renault Scenic was launched and now there is a new one. The Ford C-Max too. The Fiat Grande Punto is on a major facelift after just over three years, and there was nothing wrong with the way it looked in the first place.

The new Astra will no doubt move things on a little further, with some new technology and better environmental credentials but I get the impression that new model launches, although important for the manufacturer, just aren’t as significant as they used to be. With every year lopped off model cycles in the name of fashion, the anticipation of the replacement decreases. Perhaps it would be worth bypassing the Mk6 Astra altogether, and waiting for the Mk7 generation for real excitement. By then we are promised much in the way of propulsion system changes and superefficient motors, not just a new badge design and traditionally cancelling indicators.

Alexander Henry